While the sheer numbers from Rutgers’ 24-7 loss last week to Illinois may not show it, the Scarlet Knights’ pass game improved.
After sophomore Giovanni Rescigno entered to start the second half, Rutgers opened up its offense through the air with 120 yards and a touchdown.
Head coach Chris Ash said it was a result of the Fighting Illini’s defensive personnel and scheme.
“Well, I think a lot of it has to do with the style of defense that we faced,” Ash said. “We weren’t facing Ohio State’s press corners, we weren’t facing Michigan’s press corners. We were playing corners that pressed and played some off and we took advantage of it.
“Obviously, we’re playing some corners, too, that weren’t as skilled as Ohio State’s and Michigan’s. That allowed us to do some things that we had not been able to do the last couple weeks. It’s as simple as that.”
Redshirt-freshman wide receiver Jawuan Harris was the only member of the Rutgers offense with a catch during back-to-back shutouts against No. 2 Ohio State and then-No. 4 Michigan.
Against Illinois, senior Andre Patton and junior John Tsimis got in the mix with more reps.
Patton hauled in five catches for 90 yards with a long of 38. Tsimis recorded five catches for 39 yards.
“It’s just reps,” Patton said. “The amount of reps we get, the amount of time we spend out on the field getting that chemistry down — all of that will carry into the game.”
Wide receivers coach Jafar Williams said he made it a point of emphasis to work on press-coverage defenses.
If Rutgers’ receivers can work past that, Williams said the unit can help open up the offense entirely with vertical shots downfield.
“That only helps the offense, if we’re able to stretch the field vertically,” Williams said. “That opens up the run game. It’s kind of full circle. So that’s an emphasis every game.”
Rutgers came up short on deep-ball connections over the past two games. Patton was one intended receiver on a handful of those targets.
When asked about the problem on those plays, Patton kept his description simple.
“Just timing, just timing,” Patton said. “Once we get the timing down, it’ll be fine.”
As Rescigno prepares for his first career start, Ash assessed the sophomore’s response so far in practice.
“I thought he went out, led the offense and executed the calls, made good decisions, threw the ball well at times,” Ash said. “Got to continue to work on being consistent, but I liked his personality, his energy and leadership that he brings to the offense.”
Ash said there is no decision on who the backup quarterback will be Saturday at Minnesota.
“That will be decided during the week,” Ash said. “It’s still open.”